It’s a new month and as per usual we have a plethora of shiny new non-fiction books awaiting their readers. For those interested in all things local, you might be intrigued by Downfall, a dramatic tale about Whanganui mayor Charles Mackay, who was mired in scandal after shooting the blackmailing poet D’Arcy Cresswell. We also have A History of New Zealand in 100 Objects which – much like it says on the tin – uses a range of historical relics as a base to examine fascinating, important and odd moments in our history, perfect for those who prefer to dip in and out of a book.
Looking further abroad, Sally Hayden’s depiction of the North African refugee and migrant crisis in My Fourth Time, We Drowned is a stellar piece of journalism, exploring the terrible impact of international politics on individual lives. Mike Rinder’s story of how he rose through the ranks of the Scientology church, and how he subsequently escaped, is another chilling read which reveals the inner workings of this powerful and controversial organisation. Then for fans of Dolly Alderton (or for anyone who’s feeling particularly nosy, or who happens to be craving a bit of good-humoured advice) we have Dear Dolly, a curation of letters from her agony aunt column.
Downfall : the destruction of Charles Mackay / Diamond, Paul
“In 1920 New Zealanders were shocked by the news that the brilliant, well-connected mayor of Whanganui had shot a young gay poet, D’Arcy Cresswell, who was blackmailing him. They were then riveted by the trial that followed. Mackay was sentenced to hard labour and later left the country, only to be shot by a police sniper during street unrest in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis. Mackay had married into Whanganui high society, and the story has long been the town’s dark secret. The outcome of years of digging by historian Paul Diamond, Downfall shines a clear light on the vengeful impulses behind the blackmail and Mackay’s ruination.” (Catalogue)
My fourth time, we drowned : seeking refuge on the world’s deadliest migration route / Hayden, Sally
“Reporter Sally Hayden was at home in London when she received a message on Facebook: “Hi sister Sally, we need your help.” The sender identified himself as an Eritrean refugee who had been held in a Libyan detention centre for months. From this single message begins a staggering account of the migrant crisis across North Africa. Hayden’s book is based on interviews with hundreds of refugees and migrants who tried to reach Europe and found themselves stuck in Libya once the EU started funding interceptions in 2017. It is an intimate portrait of life for these detainees, as well as a condemnation of NGOs and the United Nations, whose abdication of international standards will echo throughout history. But most importantly, My Fourth Time, We Drowned shines a light on the resilience of humans: how refugees and migrants survive in a system that wants them to be silent and disappear.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
Dear Dolly : on love, life and friendship : collected wisdom from her Sunday Times Style column / Alderton, Dolly
“Since early 2020, Dolly Alderton has been sharing her wisdom, warmth and wit with the countless people who have written in to her Dear Dolly agony aunt column. Their questions range from the painfully – and sometimes hilariously – relatable to the occasionally bizarre. Without judgement, and with deep empathy informed by her own, much-chronicled adventures in love, friendship and dating, Dolly leads us by the hand through the various labyrinths of life, proving that a problem shared is truly a problem halved.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
A history of New Zealand in 100 objects / Phillips, Jock
“The sewing kete of an unknown 18th-century Māori woman; the Endeavour cannons that fired on waka in 1769; the bagpipes of an Irish publican Paddy Galvin; the school uniform of Harold Pond, a Napier Tech pupil in the Hawke’s Bay quake; the Biko shields that tried to protect protestors during the Springbok tour in 1981; Winston Reynolds’ remarkable home-made Hokitika television set, the oldest working TV in the country; the soccer ball that was a tribute to Tariq Omar, a victim of the Christchurch Mosque shootings, and so many more – these are items of quiet significance and great personal meaning, taonga carrying stories that together represent a dramatic, full-of-life history for everyday New Zealanders.” (Catalogue)
A billion years : my escape from a life in the highest ranks of Scientology / Rinder, Mike
“Mike Rinder’s parents began taking him to their local Scientology center when he was five years old. In the 1980s, Rinder became Scientology’s international spokesperson and the head of its powerful Office of Special Affairs. He helped negotiate Scientology’s pivotal tax exemption from the IRS and engaged with the organization’s prominent celebrity members. Yet Rinder couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that something was amiss. In 2007, at the age of fifty-two, Rinder finally escaped Scientology. Overnight, he became one of the organization’s biggest public enemies. In A Billion Years, the dark, dystopian truth about Scientology is revealed as never before. Rinder offers insights into the religion that only someone of his former high rank could provide and tells a harrowing but fulfilling story of personal resilience.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
Dinner in Rome : a history of the world in one meal / Viestad, Andreas
““There is more history in a bowl of pasta than in the Colosseum,” writes Andreas Viestad. From the table of a classic Roman restaurant, Viestad takes us on a fascinating culinary exploration of the Eternal City and global civilization. He finds deeper meanings in his meal: he uses the bread that begins his dinner to trace the origins of wheat and its role in Rome’s rise as well as its downfall. With his fried artichoke antipasto, he explains olive oil’s part in the religious conflict of sixteenth-century Europe. And, from his sorbet dessert, he recounts how lemons featured in the history of the Mafia in the nineteenth century and how the hunger for sugar fuelled the slave trade. Viestad’s “culinary archaeology” is an entertaining, flavourful journey across the dinner table and time.” (Adapted from Catalogue)
The modern bestiary : a curated collection of wondrous creatures / Bagniewska, Joanna
“From the familiar to the improbable, the gross to the endearing, The Modern Bestiary is a compendium of curious creatures. Arranged by elements (Earth, Water, Air), it contains well-known species told from new, unexpected angles, as well as stranger and lesser-known creatures. Then there are the ‘aliens on Earth’, such as tardigrades, tongue-eating lice and immortal jellyfish, creatures so astonishing that they make unicorns look rather commonplace. Written by a zoologist with a flair for storytelling, this is a fascinating celebration of the animal kingdom.” (Adapted from Catalogue)